Chelsea manager Antonio Conte praised the club’s fans for sticking by him, after a comfortable win over West Bromwich Albion at Stamford Bridge eased the pressure on the Italian.
Conte’s Chelsea future had been placed under the harshest spotlight after successive heavy losses to Bournemouth and Watford – but a victory that took them back up to fourth in the Premier League will ease those concerns for now.
Conte’s name was sung throughout by the home fans, in an obvious show of support.
“I have to thank the fans because they showed me great support,” he said. “They are reading speculation and rumours on me and I’m grateful to the fans.
“It means they understand my passion, my will to defend this colour, this shirt, this badge.
“I have to live with this pressure until the end of the season. I don’t want this pressure to weigh on the shoulders of my players.”
Antonio Conte celebrated his first Premier League home win since 30 December
Conte needed the brilliance of Eden Hazard to settle early uncertainty on the pitch and in the stands.
Hazard exchanged passes with Olivier Giroud before giving Chelsea a first-half lead and, after Victor Moses slid home a second after the break, sealed victory with a powerful drive in the 71st minute.
The win took the Blues a point ahead of fifth-placed Tottenham.
West Brom, meanwhile, are seven points from safety after one win in 25 league games.
They were hampered by losing loan signing Daniel Sturridge to injury inside three minutes. Substitute Jay Rodriguez wasted an opportunity to put them ahead when clean through, and Salomon Rondon and Jonny Evans also missed chances with the game in the balance.
“Losing Daniel Sturridge after three minutes was a blow in itself,” said Pardew. “That was probably a bigger blow than the result.
“He felt his hamstring after a 60m sprint in the first moments of the game. We’ll have to nurse him.”
For Conte, however, it was a satisfying night and the pressure – temporarily at least – is off.